Putting on your dancing shoes may help you move better in your walking shoes.
A new study from Saint Louis University, in Missouri, found that dancing may ease knee and hip pain for older adults who suffer from arthritis, and the positive effects can carry over into their daily lives. Seniors who danced for up to 45 minutes twice a week during the 12-week study were able to reduce the amount of pain medication they took by 39 percent. Perhaps more important, their gait -- or walking speed -- when they weren't dancing improved. Past research has shown that older people with slower, shuffling gaits are at risk for health problems.
"Once you start walking a little faster, you get in that habit of walking faster," says Jean Krampe, lead author of the study. Krampe, an assistant professor at Saint Louis University School of Nursing, conducted her study using adults with an average age of 80 who lived in a senior citizen apartment complex in St. Louis.
Krampe notes that in addition to the physical activity, the act of getting together in a social setting may have also helped the seniors. "It was a fun event that brought back a lot of memories," she says. The women were decked out in their finest attire, including boas, and some of the men wore hats, which they gallantly tipped to their partners. Even when the study ended, group members continued to dance on their own. "This caught on, and it was sustained, which is huge," Krampe says.
To be sure, the seniors were not jitterbugging or doing the Lindy hop. Krampe adapted a senior dancing and exercise regimen called "Healthy Steps." The program uses graceful, fluid movements somewhat akin to tai-chi. What Krampe especially likes about Healthy Steps is its unique warm-up that concentrates on the lymphatic system, which she believes may have also helped boost the health benefits of dancing. "It helps people with all kinds of impairments," Krampe says. "It can be done standing up, sitting down, without a partner." To watch a short video on the Healthy Steps lymphatic warm-up, which you can do at home, go to nwsdy.li/healthysteps.
Several Long Island libraries and community centers offer dance sessions for seniors. For those battling arthritis who worry that dancing will bring more pain than gain, Krampe says the opposite is true.
"Don't just sit there, because it's going to get worse," Krampe says. "Move, and you won't have as much pain."